Stripes On The Bag

Raf Simons Eastpak backpack

Some American heritage brands are getting increased fashion credibility due to their alignment with designers, a trend started by the Japanese, who seek authenticity for their own products. One of these brands is Eastpak, originally a manufacturer of military bags for the US army. In 2004, their first fashion collaboration was with the flamboyant Belgium designer Water Van Beirendonck. Since then, Eastpak has worked only with the more cutting-edge designers such as Kris Van Assche and Raf Simons.

Eastpak’s latest pieces with the newly-minted haute couturier Raf Simons was first revealled during the men’s wear show in Paris in January this year. This is the pairing’s fourth season, and there’s no sign of collab fatigue. Reworking EastPak’s classic Padded Pak’r, Mr Simons convinces us that backpacks can be luxurious bags if created in the right fabrics sans superfluousRaf Simons AW 2013 w Eastpak details (such as studs!). These backpacks have an incredible hand feel due to the fabric’s silky jacquard finish, which is a complete opposite of the crushed canvas of the collaboration’s first season, perhaps hinting at Mr Simons graduation from once a street-looking designer to one now with the advantage of a French atelier. While the awning stripes may be too much or jailbird-like to some, they are in keeping with the Raf Simons graphic sensibility.

As befitting an article with couture leanings, the way to carry this backpack is to tug it under the arm without a care, just as it is shown on the catwalk.

The Eastpak Raf Simons Collection backpack is available at Eastpak, Plaza Singapura, for SGD329

The Secret’s Out

Madonna does not twerk, but she makes sure you notice her bum. In her just-out film—not a music video—she cavorts with others, totting a gun, and then shoots them, all the while, her derriere firm like no fifty-five year-old’s should be. This is Secret Project Revolution, a much-hyped endeavour that turns out to be for social betterment than personal enrichment.

I have always associated Madonna with the book Sex, the game Truth or Dare, and the music video Erotica. This 17-minute, black-and-white short has all three in it, but the message is not immediately clear. In the introduction, she says, “Economic markets are collapsing, people all over the world are suffering, and people are afraid. What happens when people are afraid? They become intolerant, they start pointing the figure at other people:  they say, ‘you’re the reason, you’re the problem, you’re to blame. Get out!’ The enemy is not out there; the enemy is within.” It does not sound convincing.

The corniness of the message could be faulted, but it’s also Madonna’s voice: it’s like hearing Sarah Palin preach. It is debatable whether Madonna can sing, but her speaking voice is not one that can convey, let alone cajole—more evident with the inclusion of the opening of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. After five minutes of the film, she’s starting to sound wordy. “I want to start a revolution of love,” she continued. “And this revolution will overcome all fears and all suffering and all separations, and it will include all people; black, white, Christian, Chinese, Muslim, Jew, gay, straight, bisexual, fat, thin, handicapped, rich, poor, artistic, autistic. Fuck labels. I hate labels. We’re on the ship together, sailing like a burning sphere across the sea… burn, baby, burn.” And, shortly, it shows a pram in flames. But it isn’t a combustion of irony.

After Miley Cyrus’s recent videos, Madonna’s latest short is compelling if not artistic, but the images are not always clear in their intended messages. Shot by Steven Klein, a fashion photographer first then a film maker, it comprises several stylish scenes that shift from what could be the set for Saw to a jail house featuring incarceration abuse. Unable to shake off her fashion credentials, she’s impeccably dressed throughout, despite the alleged injustice she was witnessing.

“We want to fight for the right to be free,” she vocalises to what sounds like an adoring crowd—shades of Evita—towards the end, and as she says, “we all deserve love,” Madonna sounds almost evangelical. It is tempting to wonder if she ever thought that, while amusing herself with crucifies and images of the Madonna in her early days, it will come to this: the year’s biggest personal social responsibility exercise.

In his 1964 book, The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler wrote, “The decisive turning points in the history of every art form… uncover what has already been there; they are “revolutionary”, that is destructive and constructive, they compel us to revalue our values and impose new sets of rules on the eternal game.”

The Secret Project Revolution may be a turning point for Madonna, but I am not sure if it will succeed in being world-shattering.

Two Of A Kind: Zip Codes

Saint Laurent Vs Givenchy

Some minds do think alike, but whose thought of it first? To be fair, these two tops are not identical, but the zips running on the diagonal seams of the raglan sleeves look to be the same idea.

The one on the left is from Saint Laurent Paris. It’s a sweatshirt in French terrycloth of a nice weight and even nicer hand feel. The zip runs on each side from the back up to the seam of the collar. They’re workable zips, which means the sleeves can be unzipped to reveal the underarms. Useful if you seriously wear the sweatshirt for sports.

The one on the right is from Givenchy. This is a good-weight wool-knit sweater with the zips running from the edge of the collar in front, passing the chest, going under the arm, ending diagonally at the hem in the rear. Once unzipped, the front panel comes undone completely, leaving the wearer with a bolero!

To some, the Givenchy sweater maybe a better buy because you get two for the price of one.

The Saint Laurent Paris sweatshirt is available at the boutique in Ion Orchard for SGD1040. The Givenchy boutique at Paragon does not stock this sweater, but a white cotton dress-shirt with the same zipper idea is available for SGD1650.

Something Borrowed From A Rude Boy?

Rihanna in Raf Simons for F1

I don’t think the authorities imposed a dress restriction on Rihanna, yet she of the denim-shorts-ripped-into-thongs fame was dressed rather conservatively at the Padang Stage last night, where she sang to mark the end of this year’s F1 races. As expected, throughout the thumping performance, she tease-danced, tease-jumped, and tease-twerked—Patpong-inspired movements facilitated by a roomy top that The Straits Times’ Eddino Abdul Hadi called “a shapeless, pop art-inspired dress.”

Unknown to him, Rihanna was wearing a Raf Simons tee from the SS 2014 collection (pop stars get to wear the upcoming season earlier than anyone else).  A men’s T-shirt on a woman of 1.73m (even though considered rather tall) would look like a dress, but a T-shirt is not a shapeless garment since it is technically based on the letter ‘T’, hence its name. Rihanna’s costumer did, however, try to feminise the garment so that it could reveal the knee-length fishnet stockings the singer wore: the side seams were split apart up to the hip. And that was all the ripping we got from her in buttoned-up Singapore.

Photos: The Straits Times; style.come

Kindred Spirits: Tech and Fashion

Moschino X Samsung Note 3

Who was there first?

We know Apple hitched a ride on Burberry Prorsum’s SS2014 show in London, touting the iPhone 5S before its launch with a one-and-half-minute teaser and a 15-minute video captured on the handset. Christopher Bailey was quoted in an Apple press release: “This collaboration celebrates our relationship and shared foundation in design and craftsmanship. We have a mutual passion for creating beautiful products and unlocking emotive experiences through technology, which has made it intensely exciting to explore the capabilities of iPhone 5S.” I suppose it has nothing to do with the target audience such as Sienna Miller and Harry Styles sitting in the front row, or their millions of followers, or what’s trending.

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

But Apple was not the only tech giant to share the clout of some brands during fashion week. In a blog posted on Samsung Tomorrow, Samsung was in Milan “to help celebrate Moschino’s 30th anniversary this year “, showing off not just its soon-to-be-released Galaxy Note 3, but the Galaxy Gear as well. It is, of course, rather curious that a three-decade-old label should need the assistance of a hand phone maker ten years its junior. This, however, was not Samsung’s first fashion week appearance. In New York earlier, the phablet and watch appeared in Dana Lorenz’s Fallon runway that was essentially an accessory presentation.

It’s not hard to see that there’s something mutually beneficial here. Despite the massive unsolicited publicity hand-phone launches receive these days, fashionable is not an attribute that can be immediately dialled up. In the first quarter of last year, Samsung Electronics was crowned the world’s largest phone maker by unit sales, not surprising since its handsets, particularly the Galaxy series, have been all the rage. But popular does not necessarily mean cool, the one quality always associated with Apple. By hobnobbing with fashion labels during the most important days of the ready-to-wear calendar, Samsung could see the cool factor of its products inch up.

Similarly, while fashion may have become a global circus, as IHT’s Suzy Menkes so rightly pointed out recently, not many brands are as tech-savvy as the ever-streaming/posting Burberry. Moschino, not in the collective memory of the world’s fashionistas for a long time, could really reach out to a Tweeter-mad generation by showing smart phones alongside smart suits.

These tech giant are, in fact, a little slow to the game. Fashion has been a marketing medium for a while to non-clothing brands, especially drinks: Coke Light has ensnared Lagerfeld’s silhouette for its cans, Evian has allowed Lacroix to pattern its glass bottles, while Piper-Heidsieck Champagne’s opaque bouteilles wear Gaultier‘s corset and, this year, fishnet stockings. Despite the arguments against carbonated drinks, alcoholic or not, when designers are associated with them, imbibing them may, for a moment, not be harmful to health.

Although it is doubtful that there will be a co-branded Burberry iPhone or a Moschino Galaxy Note, these exercises in mutual admiration can only become more evident and frequent, and as persistent as celebrities in the front row.

Photos: Samsung Tomorrow, Burberry

New Gold, Old Gold

iPhone & Casio

Now that, like everyone else (or the rest of Asia), you’ve splurged on the gold iPhone 5S, ignoring the milk-in-the-blend of the colourful 5C, there may not be much in the wallet left to buy something else, such as a watch that can match the gleam of your new handset. In fact, it is not likely that you may have a timepiece that goes with gold since most of our wrists are averse to the colour of our parents’ wedding bands.

This is when the Casio A158WEA-9 comes in. It’s not a gold-coloured watch, only the face is (allowing it to be as bi-coloured as Apple’s flagship smartphone). The retro vibe is a perfect counterpoint to the iPhone’s sleek minimalism. And the best part… it can be bought at some retailers with the change you got from the purchase of the 5S: S$20!

The Casio A158WEA-9 is available at select dealers

Loewe X Junya Watanabe

Loewe AmazonaBack in March, during the Paris season, Junya Watanabe showed some bags he designed with the Spanish house of Loewe. Not really known for his accessories, Mr Watanabe put out a biker/punk-leaning collection that overshadowed the somewhat lady-like bags, which were soon a fading blimp on the fashion radar. Fast forward six months, the bags can soon be seen (and had) at the Loewe boutique, where they have been concealed until the launch this coming Monday.

Mr Watanabe is not new to collaborations. He’s one of the earliest designers to align himself with established brands to re-imagine some of their iconic designs. These included Levis’s 501 jeans as well as the Lacoste polo. He has a penchant for work wear, teaming up with such unlikely brand as Laboureur and Duvetica, turning what is traditional to these labels into forms quite unexpected, yet not entirely stripped of their original identity.

With Loewe, Mr Watanabe has taken the signature bag Amazona and given it the patchwork treatment he is known for. Since the “African Collection” of S/S 2009, he has intermittently showed clothing of deconstructed denim with some kind of patchwork, revealing himself to be adept at updating a hippie style without traipsing into parody. Unfortunately for Mr Watanabe, this treatment has been popularised by many other brands, and turned into such indiscriminate hotchpotch (and available at street-level price points) that patchwork now has a rather patchy reputation.

This Amazona will be coveted, but will it be snapped up in a feeding frenzy? We’ll know soon.

The Loewe + Junya Watanabe Amazona denim patchwork bag (from SGD3,590) will be available at the Loewe boutique at Takashimaya S C from Monday

Photo: Loewe

Country No More

Prada brogues AW 2013

Prada has always turned traditional footwear on its head. They have done for brogues what Fred Perry has done for the polo shirt. A pair such as this, for example, is a far cry from the Scottish (or Irish, depending on who you ask) footwear English country gents used to wear. In fact, they’re not the brogues we have been seeing a bit too much these days. If you look at the calfskin upper properly, this is really a hybrid shoe: Clarks Wallabee meets Church’s Chetwynd. And the leather/rubber sawtooth sole perfectly underscore the unusual upper!

For those in the know, there’s a certain snob appeal to these crossbred shoes: they’re what store staff will be eager to point out as “catwalk shoes”—styles shown on the runway. Wearing them makes you an early adopter and sets you steps ahead of the rest. And that could be social advantage for some. (Insert smiley here!)

Now available for SGD1770 at Prada, Ion Orchard

The Watchful I: Consumed In Logoland

Logo lady

Laden with bags, she walked in with the haste of someone desperate to go to the loo. When she found her table, she plonked what she was carrying on three chairs. Usually, I wouldn’t observe fellow customers at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, but this woman was different: a window display come alive. In the twenty minutes she spent (without spending) in the café, she availed the following for all to see:

1 Gucci backpack

1 Gucci thermos case

1 LV notebook case

1 LV iPad case

1 LV iPad Mini case

1 LV organizer

1 LV watch

2 LV paper bags containing purchases

1 Prada iPad case

1 Prada cosmetic pouch

As soon she was seated, she dislodged from her 500 by Gucci GG Imprimé canvas backpack a matching thermos case from which a black flask was pulled out, and then placed on the table, which, by then, was already occupied by a neatly arranged pile of communication devices sheathed in their LV Monogram Canvas sleeves, and stacked with the largest at the bottom so that they formed a three-story stepped pyramid. Discreetness, I realised, is like manners: it is not quite enforceable.

Reaching into the LV shopping bag, she fished out an envelope, one typical of those in which proof of payment from luxury fashion houses are properly concealed, and removed the receipt that was as large as an A4 letterhead, with the immediately identifiable LV logo behind. She read silently without indication of satisfaction or regret, returned the paper to its home, and sent the latter back to the paper bag.

She stood up, and from within the backpack, withdrew an iPad protected by a Prada Saffiano leather case. She removed the tablet as if pulling a sword from its scabbard. From the backpack again she took out a Prada nylon cosmetic pouch, in which she extracted a silver stylus. Seated again, she tapped on the iPad, causing the left sleeve of her jumper to hitch up, revealing the LV Tambour Medium Quartz Brown Dial watch with Monogram strap.

Until this woman’s arrival, I caught sight of two guys seated opposite her. Both had bleached blond hair, wore spectacles, but were dressed quite unlike the other. One could be a disciple of Rick Owens (cowl neck tunic and all-black), the other a Roberto Cavalli groupie (leopard-print blazer and all-pimp). These two, like me, were drawn to the woman; their overwhelming fashion presence suddenly diminished.

There’s a life-reflecting-screen moment here. Just a short while ago, I was in Lido watching Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, a film that is an orgy of consumption—celebrity consumption: the stars who consume and those who consume the stars. The crimes perpetuated by the girls (and one guy) are less about the transgression than the partaking of helping oneself to the excesses of others. Excess is the point here: the overload of luxury goods and the surfeit of temptation.

The woman I was observing had finished busying herself with the iPad. She clothed it and placed it aside. From the pile on her left, she took the topmost piece, and revealed the iPad Mini. She fiddled with it for a short while, and retired it. From what I could see, there were altogether three Apple tablets. The need for three of essentially the same gadget (not to mention the hidden notebook, possibly a MacBook Pro) is puzzling. And the visibility! I suppose conspicuous consumption has to be followed by conspicuous display, so well propagated by the Narcissus-spawning app called Instagram. But this is not a post by someone in another location; this is real time. Such a sight could only excite the envy of those inspired rather than disgusted by The Bling Ring!

She started to pack up to leave. Just as I thought she was done with her exhibition, the woman reached into the backpack once more, dug out an LV Monogram Canvas agenda cover, examined its content, returned it to the bag, and hobbled out of the café, as weighed down as when she first walked in. Carrying things, as I saw, really reveals how we carry ourselves.

First Look: Raoul Spring/Summer 2014

Raoul SS04

The Sixties vibe is unmistakable, the conceptual strength sturdy. But hardly the front of the pack, how did Raoul come to this? That’s not quite obvious.

Just two days ago, on Friday the thirteenth in New York, the day after Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week ended, Singapore’s much-lauded label showed its SS2014 collection. The static presentation at the Highline Stages, a multi-studio space in the Meatpacking District, offered what, at first sight, could be Raoul’s best offering to date.

Silhouettes associated with Twiggy and prints vaguely recalling the graphic designs of Dutch typographer Jurriaan Schrofer (but are, in fact, influenced by Brit artist Ben Nicholson) form the backbone of the collection. The shifts, shell tops, tunics, and pyjama-styles reflect tight editing. There is a certain simplicity that is alluring as well and, at the risk of sounding trite, modern. But Raoul was not always like this.

Most press coverage of the line in the past has attributed Raoul’s aesthetic to its design director Odile Benjamin, who, together with her husband Douglas Benjamin, often took to the catwalk at the end of stage presentations. When the women’s collection was launched some 10 years ago, it was positioned as a take on the men’s, which appeared first in 2002. Looking at the show photos of the SS 2014 season, it may be hard to believe that not so far back Raoul was variations of the shirt before moving on to dresses not quite on the right side of the fashion track. The line was build on feminine construction that was classic rather than innovative, and it escaped a Burda-esque image mostly through savvy marketing.

About four years ago, New York-based stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin came onboard as a consultant. It was then that Raoul started its journey towards trend-led collections, and on the way, picked up accolades when celebrities and actresses started wearing Raoul very publicly. Ms Findlay-Levin’s influence is discernible, more so when you consider her reach with designers, stores, stars, and the media, connections so vital to the visibility of brands today.

The biggest achievement for Raoul came in September last year, when the Duchess of Cambridge, during her visit to our island, wore a silk outfit to the Rainbow Centre at Margaret Drive, effectively ranking Raoul alongside her favourite labels such as Jenny Packham and Erdem.

Exactly how much creative input Mrs Benjamin offered in the making of recent Raoul is not certain. Alone or with a lieutenant, the captain may be marching Raoul to the right evolutionary beat.

Photo: http://www.zimbio.com; Mireya Acierto/Getty Images North America

The Paint Job

Converse X MMM 2013

By Shu Xie

Old-school sneakers, luckily for us, are not suffering the same decline as old media. While plastic and foam resin continue to clothe urban feet with regrettable fervour, cotton canvas atop rubber soles have a certain low-key charm that, like denim jeans, never really go out of style. Sometimes you just need to ‘update’ them, exactly what Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) did with the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars Hi and Converse Jack Purcell.

The signature white paint of MMM is hand-coated on these shoes (including the metal eyelets, the toe cap as well as the sole!), making them look generic, and very much like the school shoes I used to wear a very long time ago. At initial sighting, I thought of “first to Bata, then to school” (for those of you who can remember!). In pre-Scotch Guard times, my washed-once-a-week shoes, as soon dirtied, were given a coat of paint (for me, usually in the evening before bedtime so that they will dry by the next morning before school) to render them presentable. I recall using a chalky paint by Kiwi that was housed in a plastic bottle with a sponge applicator affixed to the cap. I vaguely remember it was called Shoe White. Today, they’re sometimes known by the fancier name Canvas Renovator. Painting shoes was a messy chore, and in my haste to have it done, I would coat the entire shoe too extensively and too thickly so that they looked like what MMM has achieved with Converse today.

Converse X MMM 2013 Pix 2

Unlike my juvenile shoe revitalisation, MMM’s treatment has artistic strength even when it almost obliterates the sneaker’s branding so that they look standard-issue. But the uniformity is only an initial impression because painting by hand does not yield identical results. Also, depending on how they’re worn and how often, the paint will eventually crack and flake (and the result, too, will be different, shoe to shoe), revealing the sneaker’s original colour: black, navy, red, or yellow, depending on which you chose at point of sale.

I sense a message here. The Maison, even now without its founder, does not conceptualise without an underlying point to their ideas. With these shoes, are they alluding to something? Allow me to read more into this: all of us are born pristine, devoid of colour, shading even. But through time, wear and tear, or, to use a less elegant word, aging, we’ll slowly reveal our true colour, forbidden or not.

I’m just wondering. The real question is, can you bear to lose even a chip of the white paint that makes the shoes designer footwear, and not a regular Converse?

Converse X Maison Martin Margiela sneakers (SGD269.90) are available at Surrender, 02-31 Raffles Hotel Arcade, 328 North Bridge Road

S And C, Which Will It Be?

iPhone 5S & 5C

As the Chinese often say, good things come in pairs. Apple’s latest iPhone hopes to drive up the goodness quotient with two kindred versions: the 5S and the 5C. Pre-reveal rumours suggested that the former is the premium phone, while the latter is the cheaper one. In fashion-speak, the 5C could be the diffusion line, but Apple has not touted it as a budget buy. According to the US pricing, the difference between the two is about USD100. That does not make the 5C a cheap or entry-level phone, as some pundits had predicted. The 5S does not distance itself from the 5C by considerably more dollars. Both are not like Calvin Klein and cK. To me, they are more Prada and Miu Miu.

The iPhone 5S, like Prada, eschews re-defining the main line’s aesthetic DNA, opting, instead, to preserve its minimalist looks, adding to the selection only an extra colour—something precious no less: gold—to the silver (don’t we know it as white?) and the curiously named ‘space gray’ (don’t we know it as black?). The iPhone pedigree thus remains undiminished.

More intriguing is the 5C. Just as Miu Miu is Prada’s bold, defiant and louder sister, the 5C is 5S’s daring sibling with a valiantly teen spirit. As they are of kin, they are, naturally, identifiable, but they’re outfitted in different skins, or as Apple enthusiastically stated, “beautifully, unapologetically plastic”. The iPhone 5C takes to colour like the Sony Xperia Z1 takes to water. The five shades, apart from the white, do not look like they will be out of place in Toys R Us: green, blue, yellow, and pink, and they’re the green, blue, yellow, and pink of Fisher-Price toys rather than Candy Crush Saga!

iPhone 5C cases

It is clear to see that Apple wasn’t planning to make a bold design statement with these phones. The lack of newness may suggest a certain smugness: they know they’ve created something iconic, hence change is not required. If that is so, why offer cases for the iPhone 5C to create decorative interest for its rear? Equally colourful as the handsets that go with them, these silicon snap-ons look like soap dishes! The over-large perforation not only allows you to reveal the contrast colour (if you choose to) of the 5C, it brings about a cuter form factor, in a Yayoi Kusami sort of way.

Who’s going dotty over the 5C? It’ll be interesting to see.

Apple iPhone 5S and 5C will be available in Singapore on 20 September at authorised Apple dealers